Friday Factoid: Self-Affirmation Can Affect Brain Function



The practice of self-affirmation or statements that reflect on one’s core values and beliefs has recently shown to impact how our brain accepts medical advice that is difficult to hear (Simple interventions, 2015).


Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, alongside researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of California Los Angeles, have examined activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) on a sample of 67 sedentary adults as they were given typical medical advice.  The experimental design consisted of participants wearing devices on their wrists to measure activity levels for one week before and one month after receiving feedback of brain activity in the VMPFC.  During the monitoring period, all participants were sent text messages related to health risks and activity levels (e.g., “According to the American Heart Associations, people at your level of physical inactivity are at much higher risk for developing heart disease”).  The experimental group, in addition to receiving the overall health message, was also sent self-affirmation messages.  Results indicate that when self-affirmations were paired with health messages there was an increase in activity in the VMPFC and participants were more likely to follow the advice given.


In theory, the use of self-affirmation helps one reflect on core values, and when people are affirmed, their brains process information differently (Simple interventions, 2015).  Thus, self-affirmation allows one to receive threatening messages as more valuable and personally relevant.  Furthermore, the VMPFC is an area of the brain that increases activity when individuals think about themselves and when values are ascribed to ideas (Simple interventions, 2015).  It is noted that activity in the VMPFC during the reception of a health message can predict behavior change better than one’s own intentions of changing (Simple interventions, 2015).  These findings suggest that self-affirmations facilitate change by altering how our brain responds to messages that are counter to our current behaviors.


As a result, it is fitting to quote the character Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone-it, people like me.”



Simple interventions can make your brain more receptive to health advice. Retrieved from (2015, February 2).


To review original article:

Falk, E. B., O’donnell, M. B., Cascio, C. N., Tinney, F., Kang, Y,…Strecher, V. J. (2015). Self-affirmation alters the brain’s response to health messages and subsequent behavior change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in press. Epub ahead of print retrieved from


Dannie Harris, M.A., M.A., M.A.Ed., Ed.S.,
WKPIC Practicum Trainee



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